NEW YORK — Britain says it is ready to start trade negotiations with the United States but is waiting for agreement from the Trump administration on whether those negotiations can now be conducted virtually.
Karen Pierce, Britain’s new ambassador to the United States, told POLITICO that moving quickly on the bilateral trade negotiations would “put a bit of optimism into the world economy,” and that Britain is “actively discussing” the matter with the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce Department. Pierce said American negotiators are “famously tough on trade” but that Britain “certainly intends to fight our corner.”
Pierce also said the U.K. will fiercely resist the “backward step” of protectionism as a way of dealing with the supply chain weaknesses exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing “strategic vulnerabilities in supply” can coexist with “keeping the global economy open and keeping trade flowing,” she added.
Negotiations between the U.S and U.K. were slated to begin in March, but were disrupted by coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions. Britain is conducting separate trade negotiations with the European Union via videoconference.
On China — the source of a public split between the U.S. and U.K. over the role of Huawei in 5G networks — Pierce said Britain and America are aligned on freedom of navigation and human rights issues, as well as internet regulation. But she stressed “there’s always going to be differentiation” between the two countries’ approaches to Beijing. “We don’t have a common policy.”
Pierce called for “enhancement rather than improvement” of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and U.K. She cited work between American and British companies on a coronavirus vaccine, including Kentucky BioProcessing, owned by British American Tobacco, which hopes to produce 1 to 3 million vaccines a week within months.
While Pierce praised America’s leadership of the G7, including the decision to include health ministers at meetings, she was less laudatory on other policy issues.
“We want the multilateral institutions to work,” Pierce said, and that means letting the World Health Organization do its job during the current pandemic before any reforms or investigations are undertaken. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has ordered a halt to U.S. funding for the WHO after accusing it of being too “China-centric.”
Pierce also favors allowing global institutions to evolve to give a bigger voice to China and other rising countries, and described COVID-19 recovery packages as an “incredibly important” opportunity for accelerating the “greening of economies,” including in the developing world.
Pierce summed up Britain’s diplomatic challenge in America with a nod to President Trump’s voracious television news appetite: “There’s only so many countries the viewers want to see on their television screens.” But she hopes the shift to digital communication during the pandemic will give her a chance for more direct communication with the American public.